Kristaps Porzingis is coming off the worst game of his young professional career. In the last game of a three game trip, a 112-110 win over the Trail Blazers, he went scoreless for the first time this season, shooting 0-for-6 with only three rebounds. New York coach Derrick Fisher took notice as he benched the rookie for the entire fourth quarter.
“I was struggling out there,’’ Porzingis said after the Knicks snapped a four game losing streak. “I was already feeling bad if we lost this game. I’m happy we won the game. That’s all that matters. I know the team needs me every night. I’m just happy tonight, when I wasn’t there, they still managed to win the game.’’
Porzingis finished the road trip with averages of 5.7 points and 4.3 rebounds on 24% shooting. He looked lifeless in Portland and his legs totally gave out on him as New York concluded a three-game in four day Western trip that the saw the 20-year old his worst basketball of the season.
“It wears you down just being on the road, playing game after game,” Porzingis said after Saturday’s win in Portland. “I’ve prepared myself, but you still feel your legs not at 100 percent. I try to be in the best shape possible, but it’s tough. My legs weren’t feeling as good as they should feel. This is kind of the first experience playing so many games on the road in six days. It’s tough. I got to get used to it.’’
After practice on Monday, Porzingis was asked if he thinks he has hit any sort of rookie wall.
“I don’t think so,” Porzingis replied. “A couple of bad games, it happens to all of us. Not only rookies. I’m just looking forward to the next game and preparing the best I can. I don’t really know what a rookie wall is.”
The 20-year-old played just 50 games last season in Spain over nearly seven months, and only 32 games in the 2013-14 season. In those 50 games last season, Porzingis averaged 21.4 minutes. When New York drafted Porzingis, the plan was to have him play only 20-25 minutes a night. His terrific play has left Coach Fisher no choice but to play him.
At the 25-game mark, Porzingis is averaging 27.3 minutes, 13.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. He was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November, when he averaged 14.1 points and 9.9 rebounds while averaging 29.9 minutes per game.
Despite the strong start, Fisher is not suprised that Porzingis going through this slump at this time.
“Every player goes through it in our league in different levels. I think a number of our players went through it being the third game in four nights and the intensity of our schedule. So, for sure, rookies are going to feel it the most,” Fisher said. “They’re accustomed to playing the number of games we’ve played already through the course of the entire course of the college season. Or international play, one or two games a week is nowhere near what this is. But he’ll be able to come back and give us the energy. He helps us even when he’s not jumping off the charts and so we won’t make a habit of him not being on the floor. We just did what we thought was best Saturday.”
Porzingis has three days rest before he squares off against fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Karl- Anthony Towns. Despite the tough matchup, Porzingis will be very happy to be back at Madison Square Garden.
“I love playing at the Garden,’’ Porzingis said, regarding his eagerness to come back. “It’s like a sixth player on the team. So much energy in there. Out of nowhere you score a layup and they go crazy.’’
Coach Fisher is confident that his prized rookie will be back and recharged when New York takes the court again on Wednesday night.
“You can go to other players around the league and chart their numbers and you’ll find some stretches where their numbers dramatically dip for whatever reason, fatigue, injury, stress, whatever. The great ones usually come back at some point and I think Kris will be back to his normal levels to what we came to expect soon enough.”